The Golden Rule of Bible reading: find what the inspired author intended to communicate by what he wrote.
More than three hundred years before Martin Luther was born, an unlikely reformer suddenly appeared in the city of Lyon in southeast France. His protests against doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church were strong tremors foretelling the coming spiritual earthquake called the Reformation. And the movement he launched survived to join the great Reformation. He is known to history as Peter Waldo.
Many details about Waldo are not known, including his name. We don’t know if Peter was his real first name, since it doesn’t appear in any document until 150 years after his death. His last name was most likely something like Valdès or Vaudès — Valdo (Waldo) was the Italian adaptation. We also don’t know the year Peter was born or the precise year he died — historians disagree over whether he died between 1205 and 1207 or between 1215 and 1218.
But we do know a few earthshaking things.A Rich Ruler Repents
In 1170, Waldo was a very wealthy, well-known merchant in the city of Lyon. He had a wife, two daughters, and lots of property. But something happened — some say he witnessed the sudden death of a friend, others say he heard a spiritual song of a traveling minstrel — and Waldo became deeply troubled over the spiritual state of his soul and desperate to know how he could be saved.
The first thing he resolved was to read the Bible. But since it only existed in the Latin Vulgate, and his Latin was poor, he hired two scholars to translate it into the vernacular so he could study it.
Next, he sought spiritual counsel from a priest, who pointed him to the rich young ruler in the Gospels and quoted Jesus: “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). Jesus’s words pierced Waldo’s heart. Like the rich young ruler, Waldo suddenly realized he had been serving Mammon, not God. But unlike the rich young ruler who walked away from Jesus, Waldo repented and did exactly what Jesus said: he gave away all he had to the poor (after making adequate provision for his wife and daughters). From that point on, he determined to live in complete dependence on God for his provision.A Movement Is Born
Waldo immediately began to preach from his Bible in the streets of Lyon, especially to the poor. Many were converted, and by 1175 a sizable group of men and women had become Waldo’s disciples. They too gave away their possessions and were preaching (women as well as men). The people started calling them the “Poor of Lyons.” Later, as the group grew into a movement and spread throughout France and other parts of Europe, they became known as “The Waldensians.”
The more Waldo studied Scripture, the more troubled he became over certain doctrines, practices, and governing structures of the Catholic Church — not to mention its wealth. And he boldly spoke out against these things. But since the Church officially prohibited lay preaching, Waldo and his ragtag band drew opposition from church leaders.A Sign to Be Opposed
The Archbishop of Lyons was particularly irked by this uneducated, self-appointed reform movement and moved to squash it. But in 1179, Waldo appealed directly to Pope Alexander III and received his approval. However, only five years later the new Pope, Lucius III, sided with the Archbishop and he excommunicated Waldo and his followers.
In the earlier years, the Waldensian movement was a reform movement. Peter Waldo never intended to leave the church, and he held to numerous traditional Catholic doctrines. But after the excommunication, and continuing beyond Waldo’s death, the Waldensian’s Protestant-like convictions increased and solidified.
Eventually, the Waldensians came to reject all claims to authority besides Scripture, all mediators between God and man except Jesus, all sacraments apart from those attested to in the Bible (i.e., baptism and communion), and a host of other Catholic doctrines.
- They rejected all claims to authority besides Scripture.
- They rejected all mediators between God and man, except the man Christ Jesus (though Mary was venerated for quite a while).
- They rejected the doctrine that only a priest could hear confession, and argued that all believers were qualified.
- They rejected purgatory, and thus rejected indulgences and prayers for the dead.
- They believed the only Scripture-sanctioned sacraments were baptism and communion.
- They rejected the Church’s emphasis on fast and feast days and eating restrictions.
- They rejected the priestly and monastic caste system.
- They rejected the veneration of relics, pilgrimages, and the use of holy water.
- They rejected the pope’s claim to authority over earthly rulers.
- They eventually rejected the apostolic succession of the pope.
Despite the excommunication and Waldo’s death, the Waldensian movement continued to grow for quite a while. It spread into northern Italy, and regions of Spain, Austria, Germany, Hungary, and Poland.
But the Roman Catholic persecution also continued and grew in severity, till by the fifteenth century, the Waldensian ranks had shrunk into small, obscure communities in the alpine valleys of France and Italy. But when the Protestant Reformation burst on the scene in the sixteenth century, most Waldensians became Protestants.
Peter Waldo was proto-Protestant, though he didn’t know it. He was a simple merchant turned prophet, who simply believed in the word of God with all his heart, which he demonstrated with all his life. And in taking God at his word, Waldo turned his world upside down.
For more on Peter Waldo:
The Waldensian Dissent: Persecution and Survival by Gabriel Audisio
Waldo and the Waldensians Before the Reformation by Emilio Comba
Peter Waldo and the Waldensian Movement by Paul Thanasingh
Five hundred years ago, God ignited a small flame in Wittenberg, Germany, and it grew into the golden blaze of the Protestant Reformation. What started in the hands of Martin Luther’s fabled hammer swings, soon became a battering ram which rung across the culture, smashing every false image of God in the cultural worship of the day.
It got messy.
Yes, it smashed images and statues and shrines and icons and relics. But these were simply outward manifestations of the invisible idols rooted in sinful hearts — idols sometimes perpetuated under the guise of “Christianity.”
The Reformers perceived the ancient expression of idol-making as simply the expression of an inner idol, a falsely placed confidence. The Protestant Reformation was a declaration of war on vain thoughts about God. And when war is declared against vain thoughts about God, war is declared on the culture’s idols.Idol Factory
John Calvin fought in this battle, famously writing that “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” But listen to what Calvin says a few sentences later.
Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God. (Institutes, 1:108)
Nothing is more dangerous than religious confidence in a fake god of our own imagining.
Martin Luther fought this same war, writing against Rome:
The wicked say and confess . . . “I am a monk. I serve God with vows and ceremonies. Because of this he will give me eternal life.” But who tells you that you thus are worshiping the true God, when he has not commanded these things? Therefore you have made up for yourself some god who wants these things, although there is no true God who requires this or who wants to give eternal life because of this. What then are you worshiping except an idol of your own heart, whom you think the righteousness of your works pleases? (Works, 18:9–10)
Hear the unmasked lie: “I’ll be happy once I attain my spiritual security in my own meritorious deeds and vows and ceremonies.”
This claim is a false idol — a false security in the flesh — a false image of God and a false gospel and a false god altogether.Shallow Theology
The Protestant Reformation was ignited by this confrontation with vain securities. The Reformers opposed images and statues and shrines and icons and relics. But far more central, the Reformers were aiming at the doctrinal idols, the false claims about God, and the presumptions concerning God that misled whole generations (Colossians 2:8; 2 Corinthians 10:4–5).
The Reformers drew from the first three commands to challenge this universal attraction of idols in every culture.
- Command 1 in Exodus 20:3 — Don’t follow other gods.
- Command 2 in Exodus 20:4–6 — Don’t corrupt your worship of God with vain images.
- Command 3 in Exodus 20:7 — Don’t use God’s name in vain.
The three commands are three divine warnings against vain and shallow thoughts about God.
Warning 1 forbids syncretism. Don’t think that you can mix God with your worship of idols. If you want one-third of God, and two-thirds of other idols, you get none of God. Syncretism is vain thinking about God.
Warning 2 forbids reductionism. Don’t think that you can reduce God down into something manageable that you can hold in one hand like a household idol or a little golden calf. The earth is his footstool (Isaiah 66:1). Reductionism of God is vain thinking about God.
Warning 3 forbids presumption. Don’t speak rashly of God. It is vanity to think that we can invoke God’s name to cover over our ignorance of who he really is. Presumption about God is a cloak over vain thinking about him.
At root, all the physical idols of the Old Testament lie about God. That’s all they can do: lie. Idols are birthed from lies. Thus, in turn, idols can only preach sermons of deceit to their worshipers (Habakkuk 2:18; Zechariah 10:2; Jeremiah 10:15).
And as Luther discovered in the text of Scripture, the golden calf was fashioned with a stylus, a “graving tool” originally meant to write truth about God, but instead used to shape a golden lie (Exodus 32:4).Our Idols Today
Taking aim at the religious idols of the age would become the battlefront as the Reformers reclaimed and proclaimed the epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Romans.
Man’s heart is an idol factory, and it took an entire revolution to slow its gears. Preachers had to be trained and sent out, evangelists had to take up the call, missionaries had to sail across dark seas to unknown lands, translators had to bring Scripture into the vernacular of the people, and healthy local churches had to grow so they could serve in this war. Every believer had to resist the idol factory of their heart by filling their hearts with Christ and nourishing themselves with robust knowledge of who God has revealed himself to be in Scripture.
This was the central concern the Reformers aimed at 500 years ago. Shallow thinking about God always replaces God, and sets in his place a fraudulent idol of security or sex or wealth or power or even of religion.
Martin Luther didn’t stand alone 500 years ago. Nor does he stand alone today.
To mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we invite you to join us on a 31-day journey, beginning October 1, just 5–7 minutes each day, to meet the many heroes of the Reformation.
The sad reality is that Scripture warns us over and over that we are all idol-makers. Seven billion polytheists today cannot (and will not) stop worshiping, because they cannot stop placing their hope and future security in things. Sovereign grace must break our idolatrous impulses.
As John Calvin so famously put it: The human heart is an idol factory, churning out new idols like the conveyor belt in a manufacturing plant rolling out new widgets. Viral idols gush out of fallen hearts and flood every nook and cranny of media in our culture — in social media, television, music, movies, and novels and memoirs.
A long time ago in Wittenberg, Germany, a monk ignited a 500-year war on idolatry. And the Reformation flame endures because the fundamental battle wars on today.
As my seven-year-old daughter curled up on the couch with stomach pain, she looked up at me with sadness and confusion in her eyes and said, “Mommy, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I kind of wish you hadn’t had us when you were sick — then you wouldn’t have given us all your Lyme Disease.”
Although that comment would typically have felt like salt in a wound (despite not knowing that I was sick prior to having children), thankfully the Spirit gave me the ability to hear her words as words of searching, not of accusation.
As my own mind raced to answer the very question that I have often wrestled with as well, I anchored myself in the truth that God has sovereignly allowed this. I shared with my daughter that God knew the number of our days, the hairs on our head, and the struggles that we would face, even before we were created.Jesus, Thank You
As we talked through how hard it was to be hurting, how it didn’t feel fair, and how this illness sometimes makes us feel angry, sad, and confused, I reminded her (and my own heart) that because he is a loving and good God, the only reason he would prevent me from knowing that I would pass down this awful illness to my children is if he had a good and loving purpose for it. We may not understand it now, but one day, if we place our trust in him, we will no longer battle this disease. One day, we will be with Jesus.
As her eyes began to brighten, we talked about heaven and the promise that if we put our faith in Jesus, our pain and suffering will come to an end and we will be with him in new bodies for all of eternity.
I tucked my daughter into bed shortly after and heard her pray, “Jesus, thank you that you have a purpose for my Lyme Disease and that it won’t last forever.”
That night I saw the power of the gospel at work in my little daughter’s heart through the pain I longed to free her from. Even though she may only grasp it at a surface level, it was a powerful image for my own heart — reminding me how Christ takes our grief, questions, and pain, and infuses life into what would otherwise be hopelessness.
If you are hurting today or struggling to understand why God is allowing something in your life, I encourage you to remind yourself of these gospel truths that are ours because of what Christ did for us on the cross.1. We Grieve with Hope
We can pound our fists in anguish and weep over what we’ve lost, as we lay our hurting hearts bare at the feet of Jesus. We trust that he can handle our pain. However, we can’t wallow there. We need to allow the truth of the gospel to speak into our grief and questions.
We can say to our hurt, “Because of Christ’s sacrifice, this pain is no longer pointless and it is a reminder of the hopeless eternity that I have been saved from. I can dry my tears, rise up, and walk forward in the strength of Christ, confident that he is in control and faithfully working in ways that I may not see in the moment.”
As John Piper so powerfully said, “Occasionally, weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”2. Our Pain Has a Purpose
If we haven’t surrendered our lives to Christ, then pain can be purposed to awaken us to our need for him. Once we have placed our faith in Christ, God uses our pain to draw us nearer to Christ, loosen our grip on the world, make us more eternity minded, mold us into his image, and bring glory to himself through it.
Though we may not see any earthly good coming from our circumstances, we can be confident that God is in control and working according to his purposes for us. We say with Job, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
As we see in Job, the Lord allowed him to wrestle with his anguish, even despairing of life itself. He asked why God had brought such destruction upon his life. Suffering was not used to destroy Job but to lead him to a place of greater humility, repentance, and surrender, as well as to use his life as a testimony to the power and sovereignty of God. Above all, God revealed himself to Job as the all-powerful and all-knowing God, which in the end silenced his “whys.”
If we get stuck in the cycle of asking “why” and refuse to surrender and humble ourselves under a God who we won’t always understand, then we will find ourselves trapped in the miserable pit of despair. But if we ask Christ to help us bring our grief to the cross we will be able to rest in faith that God is who he says he is and that he will be faithful to his promises.3. Our Suffering Will End
Apart from Christ, our earthly pain would be nothing more than a despairing glimpse of our eternity. But because of Christ’s sacrifice, taking the pain and punishment that we deserve upon himself, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and can trust God’s promise that our earthly pain will come to an end.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)
As my daughter and I wrestled with the pain that this illness has caused in our family, our eyes were lifted and our burden was lightened as we marveled at the promise of what was to come. It didn’t take the pain away, but it did give hope and life.
Though our outer selves may be experiencing the pain of wasting away, we (as children of God) have the guarantee that our “momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” This requires us to look beyond what we can see in the moment and fix our eyes on what is unseen. And as we gaze upon Christ, we will become more and more like him, while we yearn for that day when we will be at home with him in glory forever.Bring Your Pain to the Cross
No matter what you are facing today, Christ can breathe hope into our grieving hearts, give strength to our weary bodies, and fill our weak and broken lives with his power.
Bring your pain to the foot of the cross and rejoice in Christ’s resurrection. Praise God that, having defeated the power of sin and death, Christ now lives to intercede for us. If Christ gave his own life for us, we can trust that he will surely be faithful to equip and carry us through whatever he has allowed for his good purposes. One day, we will be free from the pain of this world and enter into an unimaginable and glorious eternity with our Savior.
Many of the struggles we face in my family are related to Lyme Disease, a similar struggle shared by my friend Kristen Wetherell. Together, Kristen and I shared our stories of finding hope in the following brief video and in our book, Hope When It Hurts.
Today, I step into something greater than me.
Into the great secret whispered in the garden and revealed in the coming of Christ. Promises of “I do” thrust open the curtains. A ring marks me as an actor in the play. The world and the heavenly host watch the two-person production. Marriage is heaven’s drama performed on an earthly stage.
In the beginning, God officiated the first marriage. As birds sang from their branches, as wind danced in the trees, as brooks babbled and crickets chirped, as wolves howled and lions roared, the man quieted creation with a song to his beloved (Genesis 2:23). God joined them together. And with that first marriage, God cued a mini-drama of eternity’s Greatest Romance. A Groom was coming.
Centuries passed, and a baby was born in Bethlehem. He revealed what marriage always foretold: covenant love for his bride. Shakespeare’s amateur scribblings blush before what angels watched enraptured. A Messiah’s love gave meaning to marriage.
Today, I step into something greater than me.
In this celestial play, she is cast as the church, and I, as the groom. I tremble.
The beggar plays the role of his King. The creature plays Creator. The sinner mimics perfection. The servant performs on behalf of his God — all before his smiling eyes. My lines, my actions, my part must be this: Christ’s ferocious love for his people.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
I am called to channel my Master’s love. I must love like him who exchanged heaven’s riches for earthly poverty; angels’ praises for human scorn; the throne of heaven for a stable’s manger; divine glory for rusty nails; his Father’s smile for omnipotent wrath. Each open wound sang a sonnet to his bride.
I must act out the romance of one who married a peasant to make her a queen, suffered hell to make her pure, opened his veins to welcome her into paradise. Tell me to multiply loaves of bread or walk on the raging seas before this — those seem more attainable.
Today, I step into something greater than me.
I am not her Savior. I have crossed oceans for her; he crossed galaxies. I will sign a covenant with her in ink; he signed his in blood. I would die for her; he has died for her. I desire to love her perfectly; he has done so and always will.God, Help Me
Our love, though fragrant with unique joy, is but one flower upon the hillside. This day, in all its delight, faintly echoes the approaching day, when we will wake from this world as from a bad dream. A day when sin’s spell will be broken, the curse on creation shattered, and we will behold our Bridegroom face-to-face.
Until that day, this marriage will groan with all of creation, longing for the shadows to flee for the substance, the brokenness for the true Happily Ever After. Until then, this covenant will pierce through the darkness, foretelling the coming of never-ending day. Until then, this love will look to the horizon, waiting for him.
Until he comes, my undying devotion to her, my unending delight in her, my intoxicating love for her paints the benevolence of Christ’s affection for his beloved. God, help me.
My singularity towards her, in body and heart, portrays God’s unyielding fidelity to his people. God, help me.
My spiritual leadership of her in tireless initiative and joyful self-sacrifice represents the tender power of Christ’s nourishing headship. God, help me.To the Bride
My love, today, we step into something greater than us.
“He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). Christ has blessed me with an excellent one, one more precious than the rarest of treasures (Proverbs 31:10–12).
You are a lily among brambles. You are the crown of my head. You are an eagle, soaring above all other women in my esteem and affection. You are my best friend. You are the apple of my eye. Christ’s chosen and mine.
My love, today, we step into something greater than us.
Today, we step onto the stage together. My soul rejoices in you, fairest daughter of the King. For years, I’ve prayed for you. For months, I’ve grown in wonder at you. Today, I get to marry you.
Today, we step into something greater than us. Tomorrow, we step into eternity.
Only a hope that holds fast to Jesus can rejoice in the trials and troubles we are bound to face in this life.
Anger destroys relationships, but the Bible has a category for righteous anger. So what’s the difference between the good version and the deadly one?
Anger destroys relationships, but the Bible has a category for righteous anger. So what’s the difference between the good version and the deadly one?
Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy Enterprises and its chief ideological incarnation, died on Thursday at age 91 at the Playboy Mansion, immersed in the fantasy he created. He will be buried next to Marilyn Monroe, Playboy’s inaugural centerfold.
In 1953, Hefner pulled pornography out of the seedy back cultural alleys, dressed it up in sophisticated costume and speech, gave it a stylish, debonair set, made it look liberating and libertine, and pushed it into the mainstream as Playboy Magazine. He was not so much a revolutionary as a man who understood his times. He knew the “right side of history” when he saw it. He saw the weakness in the flank, struck shrewdly (and lewdly), and won the cultural battle: the old sexual mores have been decisively thrown down and pornography is pervasive. But at what cost?Seeing People as Roles, Not Souls
Playboy (and the flood of increasingly explicit material that has followed it through the break it made in the cultural dam) is not an enterprise that exists to celebrate the beauty of the human body or the wonder of human sexuality. It is an enterprise aimed at financially capitalizing on the fallen human bent toward objectifying others for our own selfish ends. It encourages both men and women in codependent ways to view embodied souls as embodied roles in the private virtual reality show we call fantasy.
Hefner and many others have become very rich by objectifying women and turning them into virtual prostitutes — mere bodily images to be used by millions of men who care nothing about them, who ravage them in their imaginations for selfish pleasure and then toss them in the trash. Hefner gave these women the fun name of “playmates,” a wicked mockery of both a person and play, adding a terrible insult to horrible injury.
We call this wicked, for it is. But in calling it wicked, we must confront our own wicked proneness to objectify others and resolve all the more to war against it. We humans have a horrible, sinful tendency to view others as roles — too often expendable “extras” — in the epic moving picture of our story, not souls in the real epic of God’s story.
The fallen human nature, unhinged from God’s reality, seeks to construct its own preferred reality. And it uses other people to do it. Let me use as an example what at first might appear as a harmless, fun song, but is anything but harmless.The Fantasy Girl from Ipanema
In the mid-60’s, as Playboy was building steam on its way to becoming a media powerhouse, the Brazilian jazz/bossa nova song, “The Girl from Ipanema,” was building steam as an international hit, on its way to being the second-most recorded pop song in history.
The song is about a man who daily watches a beautiful girl walk by him on the way to Ipanema Beach in south Rio de Janeiro. She is “tall and tan and young and lovely” and “swings so cool and sways so gently,” passing by like a song on legs. He is intoxicated with her and “would give his heart gladly” to her, but “she doesn’t see” him.
The song is light and breezy and almost sounds innocent. But it’s not. The song is actually a man’s fantasy. The girl he thinks he loves, he knows nothing about. If she turns out to have a lower IQ than he imagines or a serious medical condition, would he still love her? If she heads to the beach daily to escape the sexual molestation of a relative, or suffers from a subtle mental illness, would he still give his heart gladly to her? This girl is not a soul to him; she is a symbol of something he desires and he projects on her a role in a fantasy of his own creation.
This is precisely what we humans are so prone to do: to view others, and the world, as a projection of our own fantasies. Even we Christians can lose sight of the world as a battlefield of horrific cosmic warfare, with people caught in its crossfire needing to be rescued, and see it as the place where we want our dreams — self-centered, self-serving, self-exalting, self-indulgent dreams — to come true. The more we indulge such fantasies, the more inoculated and numb we become to reality and the less urgent we feel about the real needs of other real souls.The Real Girl from Ipanema
The girl from Ipanema has a Hugh Hefner connection, for she was a real girl. The song’s (married) composers used to sit in a café near the beach, watch her walk by, and talk about the desires she inspired. She was a 17-year-old school girl, sometimes wearing her school uniform and sometimes wearing her bikini.
After the song exploded in popularity, the composers informed her that she was “the girl.” She became a minor Brazilian celebrity, a national symbol of sexual appeal. Eventually she became a Brazilian Playboy Playmate, posing for the magazine as a younger woman and later posing again with her adult daughter — two generations caught and exploited by Hefner’s fantasy. Now she’s 72, trying hard to stay looking as young and lovely as possible, for she is, after all, the girl from Ipanema.
And she’s an example that objectification of other people is not harmless. Her identity has been forged by two men’s lust for her adolescent body. The indulgence and propagation and proliferation of fantasies are not harmless. Real lives get caught in the gears; real souls are shaped and hardened and become resistant to what’s really real, to what’s really true. And they can be destroyed.People Are Souls, Not Roles
It is tragically appropriate that Hugh Hefner will be buried next to Marilyn Monroe. Monroe was not merely the inaugural centerfold of Playboy Magazine; she became and remains the poster girl of 20th century American sexual objectification. Nearly sixty years after her suicidal death, she remains a sexual icon in most people’s minds, not a broken soul who knew the despairing loneliness of being a sensual image desired by millions, yet a person truly loved by very few. Hefner encouraged millions and millions of men and women to view people in the very way that destroyed Marilyn Monroe.
That’s why, men (and of course not just men), on the occasion of Hugh Hefner’s death, let us resolve all the more to abstain from fantasy passions of the flesh, which wage war against our souls — and not just ours but others’ souls as well (1 Peter 2:11). When we look at a woman, whether she’s Marilyn Monroe, the girl from Ipanema, a co-worker, classmate, fellow church member, another man’s wife, or our own wife, let us say to ourselves and, when needed, each other: “she is not your playmate!” She is not an object who at seventeen you might in selfishness wish to use for your own lusts and throw away, or at seventy-two you might in selfishness not notice at all.
She is not an embodied role player in your virtual reality show. She is an embodied soul whose worth in God’s eyes exceeds all the wealth in the world. She is God’s creation, not an object for your sinful recreation.
Hugh Hefner called himself “the boy who dreamed the dream.” Yes, he dreamed his dream, he lived his dream, and his dream made him rich. He died still dreaming. Only God knows how many souls have been damaged and destroyed by his dream. May God have mercy.
As a young monk, Martin Luther hated God. “I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God,” he wrote. Like countless others who doubted whether they had made themselves worthy of heaven, Luther shook with fear at the thought of how God might judge him. Until, of course, he began to understand that the gospel is not a message of fear and judgment, but of good news and great joy.
It was as if his whole world had flipped inside out. God, he saw, is not asking us to earn his love and acceptance in any way. God’s righteousness is something he shares with us as a gift. Acceptance before God, forgiveness, and peace with him can be received with simple faith or trust.
“Here,” said Luther ecstatically, “I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”
Luther had joined a monastery to do good works for God. But he came to see it is not God in heaven who needs our good works. It is people on earth. Luther therefore encouraged Christians, instead of retreating to monasteries, to go out into the world. Having been loved first by God, they could go out to love and serve others.
Through the Reformation, a tidal wave of social and cultural improvement was unleashed.Bach: Composer of Joy
Take Johann Sebastian Bach, an ardent Lutheran all the way down to his tapping toes. When satisfied with his musical compositions, Bach would write on them “S. D. G.” for Soli Deo Gloria (“Glory to God Alone”). For through his music he wanted to sound out the beauty and glory of God, so pleasing both God and people.
The glory of God, he believed, gratuitously rings out through sunsets, stars, mountain peaks and music, bringing joy wherever it is appreciated. And the enjoyment of those things can give people a taste of how enjoyable their Creator is.
God, Bach saw, is to be enjoyed. In fact, the deepest and most satisfying happiness can only be found in knowing God.The Abolitionists: Crusaders for Mercy
Consider also those 18th- and 19th-century heirs of the Reformation who campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade. Perhaps best known are William Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian, and John Newton, the ex-slave-trader and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” “God Almighty,” wrote Wilberforce, “has placed before me two great Objects, the Suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners [i.e., morals].”
Wilberforce was strongly encouraged in his work against slavery by John Wesley, the evangelist and founder of Methodism, who wrote his last letter to urge Wilberforce on.
“Slave-holding is utterly inconsistent with Mercy,” argued Wesley. It is the exact opposite of the liberating kindness of God which had been trumpeted in the Reformation. Wesley therefore fought and prayed for the emancipation of both African bodies and souls:
O burst thou all their chains in sunder, more especially the chains of their sins; Thou Saviour of all, make them free, that they may be free indeed.
And his prayer was answered: the success of the abolitionists over slavery went hand in hand with a dramatic growth in black Christianity.Shaftesbury: The Great Philanthropist
When William Wilberforce died in 1833, his funeral was attended by another heir of the Reformation, Anthony Ashley Cooper. Later titled Lord Shaftesbury, he would become known as “the great philanthropist.”
Trusting himself to God after reading the same book that had converted Wilberforce to Christianity, he had resolved “with the help of God” to devote his life “to pleading the cause of the poor and friendless.”
Which he then did with unstinting energy for over fifty years. Through Parliament, he fought the sale of girls into prostitution, outlawed employing young boys as chimney sweeps, established working hours to end the cruel abuse of poor manual workers, and transformed the previously disgusting conditions of London madhouses. He provided education, food, and housing for the poor — and the list could go on for pages.
Having experienced the loving compassion of Christ himself, he wanted to share it. After all, he said, “these social reforms, so necessary, so indispensable, seem to require as much of God’s grace as a change of heart.”
No man, depend on it, can persist from the beginning of his life to the end of it in a course of self-denial, in a course of generosity, in a course of virtue . . . unless he is drawing from the fountain of our Lord Himself.Still Reforming
For us today, the Reformation still has sparkling good news — news of an enjoyable and satisfying God. A God who lavishes his love on those who have not made themselves attractive to him. A God whose love can liberate the most broken and guilty.
What Martin Luther discovered in the Bible pulled him out of despair and made him feel he had “entered paradise itself through open gates.” Nothing about that message has changed — or lost its power to brighten lives today.
Christians may, at times, have unchristian motives in their ministry. But they cannot have a wrong gospel.
Cut out all the time between plays, and you can watch all the action of a nine-inning baseball game in about 18 minutes. Do the same with the average football game, and your total viewing time is only 11 minutes.
Sounds efficient, but is it all just the same? Is “speed watching” anywhere close to experiencing the ups and downs of the contest over three hours? Would a real baseball enthusiast be satisfied to “speed watch” Game 7 of last year’s World Series, or an avid football fan Clemson’s last-second win over Alabama, or the Patriots’ historic come-from-behind victory in the last Super Bowl?
Collapse whole games into just wall-to-wall action, and you may quickly see what happened, and download the basic data, but you won’t experience the emotional significance of each moment. You will end up missing the vital tension and resolution of those critical plays where everything’s on the line. You’ll forfeit the fullest enjoyment of the game, and miss the heart of what has made the sport so popular and powerful.Join the Slow Movement
I’m generally a slow reader, not because I couldn’t speed myself up in some measure, but because I want to enjoy reading, and genuinely profit from it. I want to be changed by what I read. I’m not typically looking just to run new data between my ears, but as a rule, I want to feel the emotional significance of each moment, and let it have its full effect.
I realize the Information Age isn’t slowing us down, but subtly and constantly pressuring us to speed up. As we browse, surf, and scroll, we’re training ourselves to quickly see new facts and then look for the next figures, rather than feel the weight of what we read.
So, consider slowing down with me. I’m not saying only read slow. It’s good to develop different speeds for different types of content and different goals. I’m simply waving a little flag for developing your slow gear, when all around you is saying, “Faster!” I won’t pretend every Christian should do it this way. I’m thankful others have different callings and capabilities. But here are four modest pieces of advice for Christian reading that doesn’t miss the heart.1. Enjoy the benefits of reading slow.
Those of us who are simply slower readers may feel it as a weakness, but what if we realized that reading slowly isn’t necessarily a handicap, and that there are benefits? John Piper confesses his slowness as a reader, and does his level best to capitalize on it. This vision alone may be enough to make an able “speed-reader” take intentional steps to develop his slow gear:
I read slowly — about as fast as I speak. Many people read five or ten times faster than I do. I tried for years to overcome this weakness, with special classes and books and techniques. After about two decades of bemoaning this weakness (from age 17 to 37 or so), I saw there would be no change. This is one reason I left college teaching and the academic life. I knew I could never be what scholars ought to be: widely read.
What did it mean for me to identify and exploit this weakness? It meant first that I accept this as God’s design for my life. I will never read fast. It meant I stop complaining about it. It meant that I take my love for reading and do with it what I can for the glory of Christ. If I can only read slowly, I will do all I can to read deeply. I will exploit slowness. I will ask Jesus to show me more in reading little than many see in reading much. I will ask Jesus to magnify his power in making my slowness more fruitful than speed. (“Don’t Waste Your Weakness”)
Read deeply, and exploit your weakness.2. Feel the freedom not to finish.
Some of us feel a kind of unspoken (and unexamined) pressure to finish any book we start. As if we’ve failed, and all our reading was in vain, if we don’t make it till the end. That is emphatically not the case. If the book’s bad, don’t waste any further time trudging through it. And even if it’s a good, helpful book, you do not have to finish to benefit. In fact, you may be squandering time if you’re finishing every book you start.
Call it the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of what most non-fiction books have to offer can be found in about 20 percent of their pages. So I feel no obligation to finish a book just because I started it. Without apology, I ransack books for as much as I can get in the time I have. I do a lot of dipping in, not a lot of cover-to-cover reading. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m reading fast. But I am on the lookout for the 20 percent.3. Beware the losses of “speed-reading.”
I do wonder how much “speed-reading” really is a mirage. It sounds great, on the surface, to get more information in less time. But is reading really just about information? Is that our great need today — more data? Is “reading” a whole book in a stressful two hours really a better investment than truly enjoying a fifth of it in the same amount of time?
I have found that I typically get out of reading what I put into it. When I read quick and thin, I access more information, but I suspect it makes me a thin thinker. I may have a lot of facts and figures in my head, but will I know how they relate to each other, what they mean in the real world, and what wise applications to make? If I read slow and deeply, I won’t avail myself of all the data a speed-reader can take in, but I will learn, I hope, to think and feel deeply. I may have less information at my fingertips, but I’ll be better equipped to handle what I do have.4. Read to be transformed, not just informed.
I’ve already said as much; now let the counsel be clear: learn to read for more than just information. Sure, there are times where we’re tackling a new subject, and we need to get our bearings in a lot of new data. Again, developing some ability to move quickly through text on occasion can be a helpful skill to have. But for me, I do not want this to be my habit or typical pace when I read.
I want my default to be slow and steady and engaged. Retention is one thing; transformation is another. Typically, I don’t read for mere data, and I don’t even read just to retain. I read to be changed for the better, for mine and for others’. Fast food may meet the need at times, but I don’t want to build a diet on it. When you read — whatever you read — seek to have it shape you in some new way, large or small, for Christ, whether the author intended it, or even despite the author’s designs.Read Without Rushing
Whatever your regular reading pace, don’t jump in so quickly that you neglect to ask for God’s help. This is paramount when coming to Scripture, but even as we pause to open a book or read an article for spiritual nourishment, how much better might we be for it to explicitly ask our gracious heavenly Father to smile upon our efforts to be not only informed but transformed?
The heart that asks for God’s help in our reading — whether the content is Christian or not — is a heart he loves to bless. Such a posture will go a long way in finding the right pace for productive reading.
Our bodies and our everyday world feel so finite, so ordinary. But God gives evidence of eternity to us every day.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther did something remarkably unrevolutionary: he posted a list of “theses,” a common practice in 16th-century academia. It notified the community of matters to be disputed in an academic debate.
Even the content of these theses was not, on its face, particularly controversial. The familiar thematic emphases of the Reformation — faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone, under the decisive authority of the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone — were yet to be fully articulated.
Nevertheless, in hindsight, we mark this moment as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The heart of its conviction comes in Luther’s first proposition:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.
Luther was convinced that the Roman Church had departed from a biblical understanding of repentance. Instead of radical life-change, grounded in an embrace of the gospel’s promises, repentance was identified with penance — a performance of prescribed behaviors done to make amends for sin.Luther Company
Luther was neither the first nor the only person to discover biblical teachings that had been obscured by human tradition. One hundred years earlier, John Huss (c. 1369–1415) argued that the Scriptures, rather than popes or councils, should have primary authority. If this idea wasn’t controversial enough, Huss defied the Catholic Church’s policy of preaching and teaching in Latin, arguing that both the historical transmission of the gospel message and the very nature of Jesus’s incarnation underscored the principle of translation — ideas he had gleaned from British theologian and translator John Wycliffe (d. 1384).
Jesus spoke Aramaic, Paul spoke Greek — therefore, there was no good reason that Huss shouldn’t preach in Czech. For doing so, Huss was burned at the stake in 1415.
When accused at Heidelberg in 1518 and Leipzig in 1519 of being a Hussite, Luther replied that Huss (and Wycliffe) was right. And despite ongoing warnings from papal authorities, some of Luther’s earliest efforts were to translate the Bible and Sunday services into his native German. His contemporaries began to call him “the Saxon Huss.” In 1530, Luther wrote of these reforming efforts,
This which has been begun during my lifetime will be completed after my death. St. John Huss prophesied of me when he wrote from his prison in Bohemia, “They will roast a goose now (for ‘Huss’ means ‘a goose’), but after a hundred years they will hear a swan sing, and him they will endure.” And that is the way it will be, if God wills. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 34, 104)
The Reformation neither begins nor ends with Luther. Wycliffe prepared the way for Huss. Huss prepared the way for Luther. Melanchthon led alongside and after Luther in Wittenberg. Zwingli and Bullinger ran a similar race in Switzerland. Of course there’s Calvin in Geneva, then Theodore Beza after him. And Cranmer, Knox, Latimer, and Ridley in England. And we haven’t even mentioned the remarkable women of the Reformation: Wibrandis Rosenblatt, Katharina von Bora, Marie Dentière, Lady Jane Grey, and many others.
Hundreds of men and women stood with Luther on the sufficiency and authority of Scripture — priests and peasants, maids and metallurgists, nobles and nuns. Perhaps we won’t know their full number until the new heaven and new earth.Strive to Remember
But we do know dozens, and they are worth remembering. In fact, Scripture commands us to remember godly examples, to consider the outcome of their lives, and to imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7). It serves us by reminding us of both good examples (Hebrews 11) and bad (Joshua 24).
In remembering, we call to mind God’s work in the past for his glory and for the good of his people. We remember so that we don’t foolishly repeat the sins of our forefathers. We look deeply into the past in order to wisely speak into our present.
“We need intimate knowledge of the past,” writes C.S. Lewis,
Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and microphone of his own age.Still Reforming
In 1517, Luther summoned the Catholic Church to remember the gospel: that God alone can cancel a sinner’s guilt — and that God did so through the cross of Christ apart from any work of ours. He and countless other Reformers turned to the Scriptures to remind Christians that the life of faith entails a constant process of remembering God, his word, and his ways, turning away from the false promises of sin, and turning to the true promises of God in Christ.
Here we stand half-a-millennium’s distance from the common but extraordinary moment at Wittenberg, and there is reforming work yet to be done. As we remember the Reformation here at its 500th anniversary, may God awaken us to the subtle errors of our own age. And as we honor the lives of Luther and company, may God grant us repentance and faith to always be reforming.
Martin Luther didn’t stand alone 500 years ago. Nor does he stand alone today.
To mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we invite you to join us on a 31-day journey, beginning October 1, just 5–7 minutes each day, to meet the many heroes of the Reformation.
If you want to rebuke well, you must be honest (Matthew 18:15), you must be bold (Luke 17:3), and you must love (Ephesians 4:25). The recipe for good rebuke involves far more than one ingredient, but one ingredient may be the most important.
The apostle Paul says to Timothy, “Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Patience is enough to convict me over how I correct others, but complete patience? Paul knew how gratifying to our pride it can be to tell someone they’re wrong. And he knew that whenever we speak the truth in genuine love, we will be willing to wait for God to bring the growth. Be ready to say the hard thing, Timothy, and then do the harder thing and practice complete patience with fellow sinners.
Your experience in relationships may be vastly different than mine, but for me, the hardest part of rebuking someone has not been being honest or being winsome — challenging as both may be. No, the hardest part has been demonstrating patience when the rebuke is ignored, or when change comes slowly.Microwave Repentance
We are impatient in rebuke because we think rebuke is more like a hot pocket than a crockpot. We want two minutes of instant contrition and transformation, not the days, weeks, or even years it often takes for God to rewire dysfunctional hearts and habits.
Our rebuke will always be shallow and fleeting if we think the work is done the moment we inform a brother of his error. We often consciously or unconsciously believe that the right set of words will set things right, and we’ll immediately be able to move on. But loving rebuke rarely happens that quickly or simply. Good rebuke is not a moment of boldness, but a gentle and persistent pattern of patient correction.Love Is Patient
Loving rebuke is “patient and kind; it does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [Loving rebuke] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7). If more of our rebukes sounded and felt like love, perhaps our hard words would be more treasured and less resented in our relationships.
Patience covers a multitude of sins. Our patience does not atone for others’ sins, or overlook them, but it will endure them for a time, bearing with the offense and hoping for repentance, even against all odds. When you feel like giving up on someone, ask God to give you enough hope, enough love, enough patience to bear one more day. A time may come to walk away, but far too many walk away when true love would have been willing to stay.Impatient with Passivity
Don’t mistake patience for passivity.
Paul says, “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Patience doesn’t just sit on the sidelines waiting for something to happen. It helps, and encourages, and even admonishes, but with a faith-filled, compassionate willingness to wait (and even suffer) for change.
If we think we are being patient when we just withdraw or overlook or neglect or “let go” in the face of sin, in most cases we’re not truly being patient. In fact, we’re likely being impatient — and lazy, uncaring, and self-preserving. Instead of taking the rougher, harder road of patient perseverance, we opt for the moving walkway of easy avoidance.
Patience is not passivity. It’s active, intentional, and longsuffering love.Complete Patience
Where do we learn this kind of patience? First, it requires real effort, but true patience is always ultimately a fruit of the Spirit working in us, not our working harder (Galatians 5:22). Growing in patience requires building muscles through practicing patience, but those muscles feed on the Spirit or they atrophy — and fast. Every effort to exert patience in the face of resistance requires faith that God will work in us the patience that is pleasing in his sight (Philippians 2:13).
Second, we have to see that we have received mercy in order “that in [us], as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). Complete patience with sinners only grows out of sinful hearts who have experienced perfect patience from the sinless one. To say it another way, patience and gentleness are the children of humility (Ephesians 4:2).
Our patience with sinners will not fundamentally change by focusing on being more patient with their sin. Lasting patience with others comes from looking at our Lord’s patience with us. God is wealthy in patience (Romans 2:4; 9:22). His patience can’t be counted in billions. If you want to be slow to anger, quick to forgive, and ready to wait for change, meditate on words like these: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you” (2 Peter 3:9). The scandal that God chose you should be enough to make you more patient (Colossians 3:12).
Ironically, the patience we need with others’ sins begins with looking at our own, not theirs. Only when we’ve felt the awful weight of our wickedness, and the miracle of our forgiveness and freedom, will we be able to extend undeserved mercy and grace to someone who has sinned against us — and to do so with supernatural patience.One More Ingredient
Paul includes one more often-overlooked ingredient for good rebuke: “Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Now, he is a preacher speaking to a preacher about preaching, but it has implications for us all.
The hard work in rebuke is not simply to muster enough courage to say the hard thing, or to patiently persist in calling someone to repentance. The hard work also involves taking them to God’s own words, thoughts, and desires in the Bible to have their words, thoughts, and desires shaped by his. The voice your brother or sister needs most is not yours, but God’s.
When Jesus commissioned his disciples to carry on his work in the world, he didn’t say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . telling them what is right and wrong.” Rather, he said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). Not just what they should do, but how and why.
If you see your brother or sister walking out of step with the gospel or wandering (subtly or overtly) away from the faith, pray first that God would “grant them repentance” that leads to life (2 Timothy 2:25, Acts 11:18). Then ask God to give you the integrity to be honest, the courage to speak up, the compassion to rebuke lovingly and winsomely, the patience to wait on his timing, and the specific words you need from Scripture to lead them through repentance.
Hearing the word of God is not a mere discipline — it is a matter of life and death. But how can we take in God’s word when reading feels like a chore?
No truth was more central to the Reformation that turned the world upside down 500 years ago next month: God justifies sinners by faith alone.
Envy of other Christians makes us suspicious of their gifts and ungrateful for our own. But because of Christ, we need not live or minister from rivalry.
What are you seeking? I don’t mean in the abstract philosophical sense, as in “I’m a seeker of truth” or “I’m just looking for happiness.” I hope you seek the former and I know you seek the latter. No, I’m asking down here, on the runway, where you actually do things. What are you really seeking?
There are other ways to phrase the question:
What do you really want?
What are you dreaming about having?
What’s fueling your hope for the future?
What’s capturing your attention most?
What are you focusing your reading on?
What are you searching the internet for?
What are you spending your time and money on?
What are you making plans to pursue?
Or we could ask it negatively: What desired person or thing is fueling your depression and cynicism, because as much as you want him or her or it, they seem unattainable?
What are you seeking? Your answers will tell you what you love.Love Always Seeks
It is the very nature of love to seek the beloved, whether our beloved is a human lover (Song of Solomon 7:10) or money (1 Timothy 6:10) or some other worldly thing (1 John 2:15) or God (Deuteronomy 4:29; 6:5). We cannot help but seek what we love. And we cannot help but grow disillusioned, bitter, and even hopeless if we don’t believe we can have what we love.
Pursuit is the mark of real passion. That’s why David wrote such things as, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after” (Psalm 27:4), and “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you” (Psalm 63:1). When he composed these psalms, he was consumed with love for (desire for) God. And love compelled him to seek his beloved.
And it’s why Paul wrote things like, “for the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). The Greek word, synechō, translated in the ESV as “controls,” others have translated as “compels” (NIV) or “constrains” (KJV). What Paul meant was that the love of Christ urged, even forced him to action, to pursue what captured his heart in ways that caused some to accuse him of being out of his mind (2 Corinthians 5:13).
Love controls, compels, constrains us. Love pursues. Love must act because love in word only is no true love; for true love always produces action (1 John 3:18).Have We Lost Our First Love?
The first indicator that we have lost our passion for God, that he is no longer our preeminent love, isn’t embracing false doctrine, falling into immorality, or out-right apostasy. In fact, we might even still be serving Christ and enduring hardship with a measure of faithfulness that most observers would commend. No, the first warning sign can be seen in Jesus’s words to the church in Ephesus:
I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:3–5)
Though the Ephesian Christians were still toiling, patiently enduring evil adversity (Revelation 2:2), they no longer were burning with desire and therefore no longer earnestly seeking Christ. The love of Christ no longer controlled and constrained them like it used to. And the “works” they no longer did was the whistleblower of their loss of affection for Christ. Jesus considered this a serious problem and his warning was urgent.
It is a serious problem, because if what we love the most drives our pursuits, and Jesus is not what we love the most, we will be spending our energies and resources elsewhere, however orthodox we may yet remain at the creedal level.What Are You Really Seeking?
So what are you seeking? What we do when given the choice, what we choose to pursue, what we want to seek are indicators of what has captured our affections.
Is the love of Christ controlling, compelling, constraining us, or is something else? Are we serving Christ out of an affection for him that makes it hard not to, or out of a sort of weary, dreary obligation? Or do we no longer do the works of faith like we used to do — not because the focus of our calling has changed, but because we just no longer have it in us like we used to?
Jesus’s call to the Ephesians to repent was not mere warning, but gospel. Repentance is an escape from the bondage of sin, whatever it is. The very fact that repentance is possible, because of what Jesus has done for us in the cross, is astoundingly wonderful news! The call to repent is a call not to have our shame exposed and bear God’s stern frown on us. It’s a call to return by the grace of God to the place of greatest hope and fullest joy.
It’s not a question of whether we will seek out what we love. The question is, what are we really seeking? Our works are our whistleblowers, because they tell us what we love. And if we do not love what we ought, God has provided us a way to escape from bondage and to return to joy.
And then let us again quest for the real Treasure: “Seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).
John Wycliffe has been called “The Morning Star of the Reformation.” The morning star is not actually a star, but the planet Venus, which appears before the sun rises and while darkness still dominates the horizon. The morning star is unmistakably visible.
Darkness dominated the horizon in the fourteenth century, the century of Wycliffe, who was born in 1330 and died in 1384, almost exactly one hundred years before Luther was born. By his teenage years, Wycliffe was at Oxford. Thomas Bradwardine (known as “Doctor Profundus”) taught theology and William of Ockham (famous for “Ockham’s Razor”) taught philosophy. Before long, Wycliffe took his own place among the faculty. Appointed the Master of Balliol College, Wycliffe lectured and wrote in the field of philosophy. But the tug of biblical studies pulled on him. He applied himself rigorously to the study of theology and Scripture. As he did, he realized how much the church had veered off in so many wrong directions.Setting the Stage
In the 1370s, he produced three significant works as countermeasures to the church’s corruption. The first one, On Divine Dominion (1373–1374), took aim at papal authority. Wycliffe was at a loss to find biblical warrant for the papacy. In fact, he argued that the papacy conflicts with and obscures the church’s true authority, Scripture. The second major work was On Civil Dominion (1375–1376). Here Wycliffe targeted the Roman Catholic Church’s assertion of authority over the English crown and English nobility. He saw no reason for England to be obliged to support a corrupt church. In his third major work, On the Truth of Sacred Scripture (1378), he further developed the doctrine of the authority of Scripture.
These three works were crucial to setting the stage for the Reformation. Two faculty members visiting at Oxford returned with Wycliffe’s writings to their home city of Prague, which in turn influenced Jan Hus. He would consequently go on to be a second “Morning Star” of the Reformation. Martin Luther’s early writings reveal the fingerprints of John Wycliffe. Yet, as important as these works are, they pale in comparison to his most important contribution, the Wycliffe Bible.Reformation Began with Translation
In On the Truth of Sacred Scripture, Wycliffe called for the Bible to be translated into English. According to Roman Catholic law, translating the Bible into a vulgar, common language was a heresy punishable by death. It is almost impossible to imagine why a church would want to keep God’s word from people, unless that church wanted to hold power over the people. Wycliffe was more convinced of the power of the word of God than the power wielded by the papal office. Consequently, he and a group of colleagues committed themselves to making the word of God available.
Not only did the Bible need to be translated; it also had to be copied and distributed. This was before the printing press (invented in 1440), so copies had to be made painstakingly by hand. Despite the challenges, hundreds of the Bibles were produced and distributed to Wycliffe’s troop of pastors, who preached across England as the word of God made its way to the people. Wycliffe’s followers came to be called Lollards. They were enclaves of reform not only in England, but across Europe.
These efforts in translating, copying, and proclaiming the Bible in English were driven by a singular motive, expressed by Wycliffe this way: “It helps Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue which they know best.” In his final years, Wycliffe endured falling out of favor with the church and nobility in England. Of course, he had long ago fallen out of favor with the pope. Yet, Wycliffe declared, “I am ready to defend my convictions even unto death.” He remained convinced of the authority and centrality of Scripture and devoted to his life’s calling to help Christians study the Bible. Having suffered two strokes, John Wycliffe died on December 30, 1384.A “Heretic” and a Hero
In 1415, the Council of Constance, which condemned Jan Hus to death, declared Wycliffe a heretic. His bones were exhumed and burned and the ashes were put into the River Swift. But the reforming efforts of Wycliffe could not be quenched by the flames or stopped by a council’s declarations. This Morning Star shone brightly against the horizon, signaling the soon coming of daylight.
Martin Luther didn’t stand alone 500 years ago. Nor does he stand alone today. To mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we have partnered with Bethlehem College & Seminary, and several other friends, to invite you to join us on a 31-day journey, just 5–7 minutes each day, to meet the many heroes of the Reformation.